Monday, August 4, 2014

LMS Video on Worship Ad Orientem

The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales has released another video on a liturgical topic. Dr. Joseph Shaw, the chairman of the LMS, discusses worship towards the east, or ad orientem, which is the traditional posture for Christian worship for well over a millennium and a half. Perhaps I'm going out on a limb, but the importance of facing east (and of the priest and the congregation facing the same direction in ideal circumstances) is so ingrained in both the West and the East that the practice probably has roots in the apostolic liturgical practices handed down to the apostolic Fathers, e.g. St. Polycarp and their successors and so on and so forth.

The eschatological dimension is perhaps the most important. The Christian people await the coming of the Lord at the end of time and also the consecration to come upon the altar during that same celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Indeed, the Fathers believed that the Lord would come again at the end of time during the celebration of the Eucharist. It is awaiting the Resurrected Lord, a true celebration of the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ our Lord and God.

It also places the role of the priest into context. The true and eternal high priest is Jesus Christ, our Lord, who gave the perfect sacrifice to the Father upon the Cross, and He instituted the Eucharist on the day before He was to suffer upon that same cross, handing over his Body and Blood for our salvation and so that He might truly remain always with us and so that we might eat the Bread of Life and receive eternal life. Only by the sanctifying Spirit does the priest at the altar offer the same pure victim, the same holy victim, the same spotless victim.

At the same time, he truly offers himself upon the altar, for the Lord said to "do this in memory of me." It would seem that the Mass only makes sense if the priest is acting as the second Christ, "doing this" as He commanded His Apostles.

The true form of Christian worship is that of sacrifice and thanksgiving. Joseph Ratzinger explains this fantastically well in Introduction to Christianity. I would read that alongside The Spirit of the Liturgy.


The eschatological dimension to the Mass of all ages is rather counter-intuitive, considering the narrative promoted by those who support the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI. They say the Mass is more centered on the entirety of the Paschal Mystery, rather than simply the Crucifixion. Well, the point might be taken that the collects have a broader dimension, but there is something to be said for asking God for effects in the here and now in our struggles, our travails, our sins as we look right at this moment towards eternity (and remember that grace and redemption is in the fullness of time...otherwise the Cross could have no saving merits for us today), especially in the Holy Mass, which is but on the edge of the beatific vision. The usus antiquior is also more centered on the entirety of the Paschal Mystery in the peculiarities that developed with a rich symbolism attached. One can find symbolism in the gestures in the Mass and on several levels, and they correspond to the Paschal Mystery (including the individual events of the Passion). One that boggles the mind of the reformers is the seeming irrationality of the blessing following the dismissal. I'm not an expert, so I can't tell you how long the Ite, Missa est has preceded the blessing, but I think it should be left alone...and not only because my gut tells me it was not a late mistake. The symbolism is stripped away in the usus recentior with the reversal of the rituals. In the older rite, it is seen as Our Lord sending out the disciples to go forth, and baptize all the nations, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit before He ascended to the right hand of the Father. The blessing by the priest is the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And of course, the Last Gospel is the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles on that holy day. Because of a desire for simplicity driven by a hyper-rationality, all of that was stripped away.

There is another element to worship towards the east which runs counter to the popular way of thinking. The priest is properly clericalized by supporters of this practice (my biggest peeve with this video is that it fails to mention that one can and ought to celebrate the Novus Ordo this way), and indeed, of the traditional Roman liturgy. He is acting in persona Christi. He offers prayer at the head of and for the congregation, and indeed, as a fellow Christian. Yes, he is set aside as a priest in the line of Melchizedek to offer sacrifice, but he is still a sinner in need of grace and the blessings of the Lord. On the other hand, it is often impossible to escape the closed circle of worship which improperly clericalizes the priest when the Mass is said facing the people. He is at the center of attention, whether he relishes in it or not.

It is hard to turn towards the Lord, which must be done in all Christian worship. Ratzinger suggested, and implemented in papal liturgical practice, the use of a crucifix to facilitate this in places where worshiping ad orientem could not occur for various reasons or where its meaning was obscured, such as his own church of St. Peter's Basilica, for the Pope says Mass on the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles while facing geographic east and accidentally the people. Go figure, the people who complained about the crucifix blocking the visual sight of the priest were also unable to understand or did not care this was not (certain Roman churches aside) the ideal arrangement. It was to facilitate the transition to worship ad orientem. And as I was told at the Colloquium, it is argued that we should be able to see what the priest does. Well, they have stripped out the ancient signs of the Cross and the reverences towards the Sacrament, so there really isn't much to see. Besides, there is a level on which our senses must be deprived physically for the greatest mystery is being unfolded upon the altar, and it is a supernatural one. We come to the altar in faith, knowing that we cannot understand and will not understand it all. So why should we approach the Eucharistic rites in the opposite manner (or appear to do so). Why not let faith supply for the defects of the senses?

Here's the video:


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